Friday, 7 June 2013

Polyamory: Opening the door on relationships

Polyamory ˌpä-lē-ˈa-mə-rē 
(from Greek πολύ [poly], meaning "many" or "several", and Latin amor, "love") 
is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.

This week I have been thinking seriously, rather than seriously thinking about polyamory.  Necessarily so.  Friday represented a deadline which could not be missed.  I commenced my reading without much difficulty some time ago.  I took various resources away with me to Somerset, and started thinking about the philosophy and practicalities of relationships that don't fall within the traditional monogamous constellations we might (unless and until educated otherwise) are the only way in which to (try and) relate romantically and/or sexually.  

Society likes monogamy.  It's been given the seal of approval.  It's sanctioned, encouraged and some might say enforced.  It sits comfortably within our cultural norms which are, I am becoming increasingly aware, excruciatingly heteronormative.  We jump from one side of a binary to the other, without any consideration as to the space in between, or beyond.  It's black, or white.  Simples.

"Unquestioned answers are more dangerous than unanswered questions."

And yet, we're so terribly bad at monogamy.  Part of this might be explained in part by the overwhelmingly convincing evidence that we are not biologically determined to stick with a mate until death do us part.  It is more likely that we choose this and must then work hard to achieve it.  Relationships require work, some more than others but this seems to be something that the Hollywood guff we are fed omit to mention sustaining not only the myth of 'The One' but hopelessly setting us up on a mission it may well be impossible to accomplish.

The simple fact (if there is any such thing when it comes to relationships, and more particularly matters of the heart) is that we have many needs, perhaps too many, to realistically expect one other to meet.  This is something I find myself talking about fairly regularly when working in the context of couples and relationships.    No one can get it all right, all of the time.  Once partners accept the reality that neither will they single-handedly meet every one of their partner's needs, nor will their partner meet all of theirs, the relationship has a fighting chance of surviving their respective disappointment.  

Which is not to say that poly is the way forward.  Poly is a consciously chosen lifestyle.  Responsible, ethical non-monogamy demands rigorous honesty - both with oneself, and others.  It is the road less travelled for good reason.  And it remains a hidden path.  Those who tread it must do so carefully, and often cautiously.  We are, it seems, some way behind in appreciating that not only is this a valuable option but that it is viable, and some would say, vital.

"Do not go where the path may lead, 
go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is plenty to be learnt from our poly friends.  Especially in the arena of open communication and honest negotiation of what's ok, what's not ok, and what might one day be ok, in the presence of certain circumstances.  The 'yes, no, maybe' questionnaire is something any one thinking about their sexuality might do well to consider either in the context of a specific relationship or outside of it.  

I admire the ethos.  Love as infinite.  But I see too the many, deep, potholes along the way.  Whilst we may not be hard-wired towards monogamy, I am not sure there are many for whom jealousy, insecurity and possessiveness might not be part of the territory when it comes to attachments within meaningful relationships.  The ideals of 'compersion' and 'frubbling' seem rather saintly aspirations, let alone achievements. But then there are many experiences I hear reported in the course of my work about which I trust my clients' expertise implicitly and may never directly encounter (or have desire to do so).  

Whilst love and possibility may indeed be infinite, time is not.  I need no reminders of this particular truth.  Time management is a challenge for most relationships.  It may not be a case of the more the merrier, unless partners feel that they are spending quality, meaningful time with one another.  Planning would seem crucial to the success of a poly set-up, no matter how many parties are involved.  There remain 24 hours in a day, and most people need to sleep for at least a few of those.  

So, distinguished by swinging and 1960s style free love, by the fact that poly is about more than sex, this is certainly not a quick fix or solution to a monogamous relationship in which parties feel dissatisfied.  There may be very good reasons to explore opening up a relationship, but there are likely to be as many reasons not to.  My research to date has been introductory at best.  The subject is vast, and there being no 'typical' poly configuration means that I may well be thinking about this for some time to come.  The point is that I am open to thinking about the numerous possibilities with my clients, whom should know that I sit very comfortably on the fence, upon a well-padded cushion of useful information much of which has come directly from 'the horse's mouth'.  In climbing up here I needed to let go of many of the assumptions and definitions I wasn't aware I had accrued until they became impossibly cumbersome and exposed themselves as the unhelpful social constructs cultivated by and perpetuated within the systems I inhabit.  

My one remaining bias is in the name...


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